Every year, utility vegetation management teams face the formidable challenge of controlling incompatible vegetation throughout right-of-way corridors that stretch across the country. Various issues can make this work difficult, including budget restrictions and the use of ineffective long-term control methods. These difficulties don’t just cause delays, they can result in compromised electrical transmission reliability. As a result, many utility companies are left searching for strategies that can improve resource management as well as results in the field.
This past February, we connected with Shawn Huff, supervisor of Vegetation Management for Transmission and Facilities with Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E), to discuss the utility’s history in vegetation management. Huff detailed the downfalls of relying solely on mechanical mowing and how using selective herbicides in tandem with mechanical mowing and trimming as part of an IVM-based program provides environmental and economic benefits to the investor-owned utility. Since then, Huff has only continued to see the positive impact IVM practices have had throughout rights-of-way managed by OG&E.
“The cost of an herbicide application versus the cost of a tree crew application is not even comparable,” Huff says. “If I can get the same reliability for a fraction of the cost, that allows me to go to my executive group and tell them that we’re being very responsible with the tasks given to us and that we’re able to hit our budget and reliability goals at the same time.”
OG&E initially used high-volume herbicide applications as part of its IVM-based strategy to treat incompatible plants and brush species throughout the foliar season. During the past three years, the increased efficacy of these treatments has reduced the need for mechanical control methods, freeing up resources for the integration of additional chemical control methods that continue to increase program performance and flexibility.
Bareground applications are now completed on utility substations and tree growth regulator treatments help practitioners control regrowth on trees targeted for trimming. But of all the effective herbicide applications used by OG&E, Huff has found that the most notable benefits come from using chemical side-trimming applications to selectively control limbs or sections of trees that pose a threat to electrical transmission reliability.
“The side-trimming aspect was a game-changer for us because we can do exactly what a tree crew does but at a reduced cost,” Huff says. “The results last for a lot longer. Enhancing reliability for more miles at a lower cost is a win-win for us.”
Previously, mechanical mowing posed a threat to desirable tree species like plum and honeysuckle, but chemical side-trimming and other selective herbicide applications allow OG&E to control problematic trees, including hackberries, elms, mulberries and water oaks, without causing harm to desirable vegetation.
“We’re seeing a phenomenal amount of control with little-to-no off-target control issues,” Huff says. “When we go into a stand of trees, I know that it’s not going to take out the trees that a landowner wants or needs. Before we were using herbicides, there’s no way we could have done that.”
As OG&E continues to integrate new chemical control methods, including dormant-stem and basal bark treatments in the winter and aerial applications throughout the foliar season, Huff works to address new issues and identify solutions that help OG&E maximize its annual return on investment. This work has required Huff to partner with other industry experts dedicated to achieving his program’s primary objectives.
As a vegetation management specialist with Corteva Agriscience, Scott Wright provides technical support, product recommendations and industry best practices to customers throughout Texas and Oklahoma. Wright and Huff have worked together since 2019 to develop a progressive plan of action that includes the gradual integration of cutting-edge solutions and refined product chemistries.
“My top priority is focusing on my customer’s objectives,” Wright says. “After that, I focus on identifying the right herbicides for the job and ensuring they are being used properly. For the chemical side-trimming practices used by OG&E, a tank-mix containing TerraVue and Vastlan herbicides was a super fit.”
TerraVue® herbicide – which is powered by Rinskor® active, a reduced-risk herbicide that won the American Chemical Society’s Green Chemistry Challenge Award – controls more than 140 broadleaf weeds and brush species. Tank-mixing TerraVue with Vastlan® herbicide provides a solid foundation to the brush control program employed by OG&E and increases flexibility for the utility’s chemical side-trimming applications.
With the help of environmental service providers at Edko, OG&E is able to complete its side-trimming applications using a single truck equipped with a spray tank. According to Huff, eliminating the need for heavy mowing equipment has paid dividends when interacting with landowners adjacent to herbicide application sites.
“Customers are a lot more receptive to the fact that we can show up with a pickup truck and spray tank instead of a trailer towing a giant piece of equipment. It’s much less invasive.”
Improving the control of problematic vegetation and protecting desirable trees aren’t the only environmental benefits OG&E works to achieve. The utility has conducted research studies and partners with various groups throughout local communities to support the development of flowers and grasses that represent beneficial habitat for pollinator species. In support of this initiative, Huff worked with Scott Wright and Corteva Agriscience to identify a solution that could help protect the pollinators. The answer was grass-friendly herbicide applications.
“If my pollinator program doesn’t properly co-exist with our right-of-way program, that’s a problem for me,” Huff says. “Using grass-friendly applications to solve our woody stem problem keeps grasses intact for the pollinators,” Huff says. “That means we are going to be able to do the right thing by supporting the pollinators while controlling our rights-of-way effectively.”
As selective herbicide applications and grass-friendly brush mixes enhance the development of native plant communities, they also eliminate areas where unwanted brush species can develop. These effects can lower maintenance costs for utility vegetation management programs and support the development of biodiverse habitat for various wildlife species, including birds, insects and pollinator species.
“Keeping our grasses intact for the pollinators means that we are going to be able to co-exist our pollinator initiatives with our right-of-way initiatives to provide safe and reliable power,” Huff says. “That’s why it’s important.”
To learn more about successful herbicide programs or management techniques that enhance vegetation control and the development of beneficial wildlife habitat, visit HabitatWithHerbicides.com.
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™ ® Trademarks of Corteva Agriscience and its affiliated companies. Rinskor® is a registered active ingredient. Under normal field conditions, TerraVue® is nonvolatile. TerraVue has no grazing or haying restrictions for any class of livestock, including lactating dairy cows, horses (including lactating mares) and meat animals prior to slaughter. Label precautions apply to forage treated with TerraVue and to manure and urine from animals that have consumed treated forage. TerraVue and Vastlan® are not registered for sale or use in all states. Contact your state pesticide regulatory agency to determine if a product is registered for sale or use in your state. Consult the label for full details. Always read and follow label directions.